Several times when speaking of future events, Jesus told His disciples to “watch.” Most people I hear talk about this focus on us watching for His return. Typically, they try to match-up prophecy with events going on today and figure out how close we are to the end times. But that’s only one aspect of watching. There are three:

  1. Watching for Christ’s return
  2. Watching yourself
  3. Watching for wolves in the flock

Each aspect of watching is vital for us as followers of Jesus Christ. We need all three and we need to balance them. If we only focus on watching for Christ’s return, we can get so caught up in the future that we neglect what God wants us to do in the present. If we only watch ourselves, we can miss important things going in on the world and the church. And if we only watch for people who may cause problems, we can become suspicious, judgmental, and self-righteous.

Watch, Keep Alert, Pray

When Jesus’ disciples asked about the end times, the first thing He said was, “Be careful that no one leads you astray” (Mark 13:5, WEB). This is one of the main reasons we need to watch ourselves and the situation around us. The closer we get to Christ’s second coming, the harder it gets to stay on-track for His kingdom.

“Watch yourselves,” Christ says, and don’t be afraid of the challenges coming to try and shake your faith. Watch for the things He has warned us of before hand so you’re not deceived by “false Christs and false prophets.” Watch, because you are like servants waiting up for their master’s arrival (Mark 13:9-13, 21-23, 34-37).

But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Watch, keep alert, and pray; for you don’t know when the time is. (Mark. 13:32-33, WEB)

When we look at all the instructions to watch recorded in Mark 13, it reveals how all three watchings we talked about are tied together. You can’t do one without the others, at least not effectively. This passage also reinforces how vital watching is for followers of Christ as we draw ever closer to His return.

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A Kingdom-Oriented Mindset

It has been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus first told His disciples to watch. Clearly, He didn’t come back in their lifetimes and yet they were still told they needed to watch. Whether He returns next year or not for another 1,000 years, we also need to watch.

Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34, WEB)

At first, it might not look like these verses have anything to do with watching. However, they come immediately before Christ’s instructions to be ready “like men watching for their Lord, when he returns from the marriage feast” (Luke 12:35-36). Part of watching and being ready is having a kingdom-oriented mindset. We need to be more attached to “treasures in heaven” than to the treasures on earth, which means investing more of ourselves in heaven than in earth. We must watch to make sure we’re getting ready for Christ’s return (Phil. 2:12; Rev. 19:7).

Therefore be ready also, for the Son of Man is coming in an hour that you don’t expect him. (Luke 12:40, WEB)

Even if the world doesn’t end in our lifetimes, we all still face an ending. All of us will meet the Lord at the end of our lives here on earth, whether it’s because we die or because He returns, and none of us know when that is going to happen. That is why we always watch.

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Watching For The Light

While watching for Christ’s return is important, the timing of that is not something we have any control over. We can’t change or accurately predict when God’s plan will unfold. But the other watchings — the ones about keeping an eye on ourselves and guarding against those who would lead people astray — are things we can have an affect on. They’re about the part we play in getting to the kingdom of God with our faith intact.

Wake up, and keep the things that remain, which you were about to throw away, for I have found no works of yours perfected before my God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If therefore you won’t watch, I will come as a thief, and you won’t know what hour I will come upon you. (Rev. 3:2-3, WEB)

I hope none of us are like the recipients of this letter, to whom Christ says “you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). But He also says all of us should “hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” and from that I infer we can learn something from this letter to Sardis even if we’re not as bad off as they were. One thing they teach us is that there’s grave danger in not watching.

You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, so then let’s not sleep, as the rest do, but let’s watch and be sober. (1 Thes. 5:5-6, WEB)

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” When we commit to Him, we commit to walking in His light and leaving darkness behind (1 John 1:5-10). This isn’t just a one-time thing, though. Walking in light is life long, and if we don’t watch ourselves then it’s easy to become complacent and let darkness creep in.

Active, Watchful Faith

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I know talking about this sort of thing can seem discouraging, but I don’t mean for it to be. Watching isn’t about piling on more “stuff” you need to do in order to be a “good Christian.” God isn’t up there in heaven waiting to throw you out of His kingdom if you let your guard down for a moment. No! He loves us and wants us as part of His family, and that’s why He wants us to watch. Not for us to condemn ourselves (or others) when we fall short of perfection, but to help keep us moving toward a deeper relationship with both the Father and Son.

We’re all familiar with the armor of God passage — take up the girdle of truth, breastplate of righteousness, footwear of the gospel, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the spirit. But this passage doesn’t end there. Paul says to do all this while praying and “being watchful to this end in all perseverance” (Eph. 6:11-18). We are all fighting a spiritual battle and God equips us with armor for that, but we don’t just sit around in the armor waiting for an attack. We stand, we watch, and we pray.

Watch! Stand firm in the faith! Be courageous! Be strong! Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Cor. 16:13-14, WEB)

Our faith must be active. Not something we panic about getting right, but something we make so much a part of our lives that we walk in faith all the time. We must be alive to the reality that some day we will stand before our Lord and that He’s going to care about how we spent our time here on this earth (Mat. 12:35-37; Rom. 14:10-12).

Followers of Jesus watch. We watch things going on in the world around us, so we’re not caught off-guard when things get worse and worse as we get closer to our Lord’s return. We watch ourselves, so we do not become distracted and complacent but are instead storing up treasures in heaven. We watch for “wolves” sneaking into the church trying to overthrow our faith. And we do all this so that we can stay close to God and, hopefully, help others who are also walking with Him.


Featured image credit: Victor Freitas via Pexels

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